India in the UN Security Council: Monthly Recap for June 2021
Focus on Asia, Africa, Thematic Issues, Cybersecurity
With India in its eighth two-year tenure as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), following is the sixth analysis in the ICWA series of ‘India in the UN Security: Monthly Recap’ by Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations.
Estonia, elected as a non-permanent member from the West European and Other Governments (WEOG) group, presided over the UN Security Council (UNSC) during June 2021. It announced three signature events: a high-level meeting on Afghanistan; a focus on children caught in armed conflict situations; and the first-ever official meeting of the UNSC on cybersecurity. Estonia took a proactive approach to convene a private meeting of the UNSC in pushing through the early UNSC recommendation to the UN General Assembly under Article 97 of the UN Charter for a second five-year term for Antonio Guterres (of the WEOG) as UN Secretary-General.
During June 2021, the UNSC adopted 7 unanimous resolutions. These were to extend its authorization to inspect vessels on the high seas on suspicion of contravening the arms embargo on Libya (resolution 2578 of 3 June); on Sudan/South Sudan (resolution 2579 on 3 June); on recommending another term for the UN Secretary-General (resolution 2580 on 8 June); and four resolutions adopted on 29 June. These extended the mandate of the UNDOF peacekeeping force hosted by Syria on its border with Israel till 31 December 2021 (resolution 2581); extended till 1 July 2022 the arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze on the DRC (resolution 2582); set 5 November 2021 as the date for election toa vacancy in the International Court of Justice (resolution 2583); and responded to the situation in Mali after the military coup of 24 May 2021(resolution 2584). Two unanimous UNSC Press Statements were issued during June, condemning the killing of civilians in Burkina Faso (8 June) and killing of mine clearance workers in Afghanistan (11 June). India participated actively in the negotiations on all these unanimous decisions of the UNSC.
External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar participated in the UNSC high-level meeting on Afghanistan (22 June). The discussion was dominated by the imminent withdrawal of the United States and NATO troops from that country within the next few months. The UNSG’s Special Representative Deborah Lyons advocated a greater role for the “Extended Troika” of the United States, Russia, China, and Pakistan. Russia endorsed this call. China requested the Secretary-General to propose options for the future of the United Nations presence in the country, for the Council’s early consideration. India said that durable peace in Afghanistan required a genuine “double peace”, i.e., within Afghanistan and around Afghanistan. India supported accelerated intra-Afghan negotiations, including the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban. India emphasized that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used by terrorist groups to threaten or attack any other country. India argued in favor of Afghanistan’s unhindered access to the high seas, including through the removal of artificial transit barriers, by invoking its transit rights under bilateral and multilateral transit agreements.
The UNSC held a “private meeting” on Myanmar(18 June) without any outcome document. The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Burgener and ASEAN Chair Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs ErywanYusof(who had visited Myanmar on 4-5 June) briefed the Council. During the meeting, China, Vietnam, and India reportedly supported ASEAN’s central role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar. This included giving more time for reaching an agreement with Myanmar on the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair who would pursue ASEAN’s five-point proposal.
Syria was discussed intensively in the UNSC during 3 meetings. On the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria (3 June), the United States, UK and France felt that the report of the Director-General of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) tabled in the UNSC on 25 May 2021 should be the basis for specific UNSC measures against Syria. Russia and China felt the OPCW report needed “objectivity”. India took the position that the OPCW report should be “impartial, credible and objective, following scrupulously the provisions and procedure embedded in the Convention, and in conformity with the delicate balance of power and responsibility enshrined under it to establish facts and reach evidence-based conclusions”. India continued to express concern at the possibility of chemical weapons falling into the hands of terrorists in Syria.
In the debate on the humanitarian situation in Syria (23 June), UNSC members discussed cross-border humanitarian aid deliveries to the more than 11 million Syrians displaced by the civil war. India called for “enhanced and effective humanitarian assistance to all Syrians throughout the country without discrimination, politicization, or any preconditions” as a priority while upholding the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria”.
This discussion spilled over in the Council’s consideration of the political situation in Syria (25 June), at which the UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen emphasized that a nationwide truce was necessary for effective humanitarian assistance to be delivered. China and Russia strongly backed Syrian governmental control over humanitarian supplies to its citizens. India reiterated that there could be “no military solution to the Syrian conflict” and reaffirmed her“commitment to advancing a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned UN-facilitated political process in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. At the same time, India acknowledged that the “UN-facilitated Constitutional Committee process” had not made “much progress since its establishment in September 2019” while expressing support for the UN Special Envoy’s “bridging proposal” made in April 2021 to bring the three main groups to the negotiating table.
The UNSC considered the situation in Yemen twice during the month. The UK as a “penholder” initiated discussions (3 June) on the potential environmental disaster from non-maintenance of the 45-year-old “FSO Safer” ship, which holds an estimated 1.15 million barrels of oil transferred by pipeline from Yemen’s Maribgovernate. In a letter to the UNSC, the UN Secretary-General stressed the importance of keeping the two-year old UN Special Political Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) in place to ensure the functioning of Yemen’s Red Sea ports. Retired Lt Gen Abhijit Guha of India leads UNMHA.
At a briefing (15 June), the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, after visits between end-May and early June to Oman (to meet the Houthis) and Iran, conveyed that the main disagreement between the Ansar Allah group’s demand for a stand-alone agreement on the Hudaydah ports and Sana’a airport as a precondition for the ceasefire and the launch of the political process, and the Yemen government’s insistence on a package solution with the assistance of the UN, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. China supported the role of Gulf countries in Yemen. India urged “countries in the region” to influence the Yemeni parties to stop fighting and pursue peace and reconciliation. India said that continuing violence and terrorism could target commercial ships navigating the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (which controlled sea lanes of communication to India).
The UNSC held its semi-annual briefing on Iran (30 June), under UNSC resolution 2231 endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July 2015. UNUnder Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo called on the United States to lift or waive its sanctions against Iran as “needed steps” to implement UNSC resolution 2231. France and the UK wanted to deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program, and the United States stated that Iran’s support to Hezbollah and the Houthis was not allowed under UNSC resolutions 1701 of 2006 and 2215 of 2015. Russia rejected the U.S. interpretation, while China said the U.S. should rejoin the JCPOA “without conditions”. India expressed her readiness to help the parties “who for their part should adhere to their obligations under Council resolution 2231.”
The UNSC’s monthly meeting on the Middle East and the Palestinian Question (24 June) followed the meeting between the UN Special Envoy Tor Wenneslandand Hamas leader YahyaSinwar on 21 June. The UN Special Envoy underlined the fragile nature of the recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and emphasized the negative impact of continuing Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories on the overall peace process. India emphasized that intra-Palestinian unity was critical for achieving a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Supporting all diplomatic efforts, including by the Quartet, to resume negotiations and facilitate the peace process, India said there was no alternative to a two-state solution for ensuring meaningful and enduring peace.
The situation in the Central African Region was on the agenda of the UNSC (7 June). UNSC members noted the positive impact of elections held in the Central African Republic (CAR), Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo, but highlighted the continuing threat of terrorism posed by Boko Haram to the security and stability of Central African states. China insisted that the sovereignty of Central African states must be upheld in any endorsement by the Council for regional efforts at peace and security. India supported the call of the A3+1 group of Niger, Kenya, Tunisia and St Vincent and the Grenadines for a bigger role for the African Union (AU) in countering Boko Haram. A specific concern voiced by India was on increasing acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which had impacted adversely on Indian sailors in the region and needed to be countered through effective international cooperation.
At the UNSC meeting on the CAR and the MINUSCA peacekeeping mission (23 June) there were divergences between the United States and Russia over alleged violations of human rights by Russian instructors/ advisers in the CAR. Russia said its instructors in the CAR were present with the full knowledge of the UNSC and joined China in calling for the lifting of the UNSC arms embargo on the CAR. The United States, UK and France said there were adequate “exemption” provisions in the UNSC arms embargo to allow the CAR to access arms for responding to security threats. India said that the UN, AU, ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) and ICGLR (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region) should play a positive role; the onus was clearly on the political stakeholders in the CAR to hold local elections as expected by February 2022.
Unanimously adopting resolution 2579 (3 June) drafted by the UK as a “pen-holder”, the UNSC extended the mandate of the UN mission supporting the political transition in Sudan (UNITAMS). During negotiations on the resolution, the United States opposed any reference linking sustainable development to peace and security, while Russia and China rejected making climate change a priority of UNITAMS. At a meeting (9 June) to consider cooperation between Sudan and the International Criminal Court, the WEOG members of the UNSC asked Sudan to hand over alleged war criminals to the Court. China, Russia, Vietnam, and India felt that Sudan, which was not a party to the ICC, should expedite justice by applying its national laws.
The UNSC discussed the situation in South Sudan (21 June). The United States said there were adequate “exemption” provisions in the UNSC sanctions to help the political transition, while China and Vietnam called for the sanctions to be lifted. India highlighted the significant contribution by her UN peacekeepers in UNMISS, 135 of whom had been awarded medals for their contribution to peace and security in South Sudan. India said that the commitment of the South Sudanese leadership to peace should be followed up by the early establishment of the Unified Command of the military and the graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces, which is a critical part of the Revitalized Peace Agreement of 2018.
The Council held two meetings on the situation in Mali (14 and 29 June). The UN Secretary-General’s letter on Mali (1 June) expressed concern that the recent military coup had derailed the political transition process due to be completed by February 2022 and brought cooperation between Mali and the African Union (as well as France) to a halt. The UN emphasized the crucial role of the MINUSMA peacekeeping operation for the Council’s objective of enabling a political settlement in Mali.
France drafted UNSC resolution 2584 as the “pen-holder” on Mali and MINUSMA, which was adopted unanimously (29 June) with the active participation of the United States (which opposed any reference to sustainable development issues), Russia, China (both opposing attempts to include climate change as priorities), the UK, and India. India supported the policy of the African Union and the regional ECOWAS group condemning the military coup in Mali. India was critical of paragraph 46 of the resolution, which was perceived to be critical of the role of MINUSMA in countering terrorism. India reiterated that “primary responsibility to fight terrorists and extremist armed groups lies with the Malian defence and security forces” while MINUSMA peacekeepers were meant to support Mali’s forces to implement the Peace Agreement.
The situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray province highlighted by the United States was considered byan Informal Interactive Dialogue private meeting of the UNSC (15 June) with the concurrence of the A3+1, China, and Russia. The focus of discussions was the growing humanitarian crisis in the region due to conflict, and Ethiopia’s attempts to defuse the crisis through a negotiated ceasefire. India supported Ethiopia’s efforts.
The UNSC debate (10 June) on relations between the UN and European Union focused on the EU’s agenda of “global cooperation based on agreed rules”. Russia said that the EU’s activities should not go beyond the mandates given by the UNSC. China felt the EU as a “model for multilateralism” should respect national sovereignty on human rights. India called the EU “a natural partner of the UN” in addressing global peace and security challenges as well as advancing developmental efforts, placing this in the context of the India-EU Strategic Partnership and initiatives announced during the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting (8 May 2021).
At the open debate on UNSC working procedures (16 June), Russia cautioned the UNSC on bringing on its agenda thematic issues that were in the purview of other organs of the UN like the UNGA and ECOSOC, while questioning the effectiveness of the “pen-holder” system. China highlighted the need for the Council to adopt consensus decisions, without a vote. Kenya, on behalf of the 10 elected members (including India, which did not speak) highlighted the UNSC’s non-representative composition and the “chilling effect” of the veto power, calling for the veto to be used with restraint on actions responding to mass atrocities. France supported such a limitation on the use of the veto.
At the UNSC high-level debate on Children and Armed Conflict (28 June), the UN Secretary-General reported that most violations against children in conflict situations took place in Somalia, the DRC, Afghanistan, and Syria—which together constituted 60 percent of the 23,946 violations recorded in 2020. The UNSC had adopted 13 resolutions to respond to child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; abductions; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and the denial of humanitarian access. Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla reiterated India’s position that national governments have the primary responsibility for protecting the rights of the child as mandated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and called on UN member-states to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention. India recommended deploying child protection advisers in UN peacekeeping missions based on her experience in the field.
The first UNSC formal meeting on Cybersecurity (29 June) was organized by Estonia, which also hosts the NATO-affiliated Cooperative Defence Centre in Tallin. UNSC members from the WEOG group stressed the importance of responsible State behavior in cyberspace, emphasizing that cyberspace is subject to international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the principle of State sovereignty. China wanted that all countries should create an open cybersecurity framework under the umbrella of the United Nations and adopt rules which are generally accepted by all States. Russia said cybersecurity issues should be discussed by all member-states in the UN General Assembly. Vietnam and Niger called for an international framework that would set out rules and norms to regulate cyberspace. Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla of India said cyberspace challenged traditionally accepted concepts of sovereignty, jurisdiction and privacy, presenting their own set of challenges for member-states. India had called for responding to the implications of terrorist exploitation of the cyber domain more strategically. There was urgent need for upholding the integrity and security of ICT products in the face of challenges posed by State and Non-State actors. Multiple stakeholder involvement was needed for effective international cooperation to ensure that cyberspace became an engine for innovation, economic growth, sustainable development, ensure free flow of information and respect cultural and linguistic diversity.
The UNSC held scheduled meetings to discuss the situation in Haiti (17 June) during which India expressed concern at the political stalemate which could derail the democratic transfer of power by February 2022. Participating at the UNSC meeting (8 June) on the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) India recommended the Tribunals maintain the principles of justice, impartiality, and fairness, and contribute to capacity building of national judicial authorities of member-states. At the UNSC meeting on Bosnia-Hercegovina (29 June), India called for the settlement of inter-ethnic conflicts through dialogue between the parties, based on equality and mutual respect, compromise and consensus.
India’s participation in the UNSC during the month emphasized the continuing threat of terrorism emanating from ongoing political crises in Asia and Africa. India’s interest in making the UNSC adopt a holistic approach to peace, security and development continued to be deflected by some permanent members, despite the unanimous agreement of the UN General Assembly on this approach.